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Millennials Grow on the Mainframe

Today’s workers gain skills through mentors and experiences

10/7/2015 12:30:27 AM | Millennials—those born between the early 1980s and mid 1990s— don’t rely on traditional career paths to succeed working with a mainframe. Many take an unorthodox road to find work by utilizing their collective experiences from past jobs as their on-the-job training.

What hasn’t changed is the effort millennials offer to constantly improve their quality of work; millennials working on the mainframe are no exception. As they strive for the skills necessary to succeed in a field where the gatekeepers of knowledge are their senior colleagues, it’s important to understand the skills the younger generation is searching for. Businesses wanting to get into the head of a millennial need look no further than the values and skills practiced within the company. Those traits are what millennials are searching for and what they will in their careers.

Priceless Skills

Among the skills millennials like Pedro Acosta, client technical specialist, IBM, are searching for, the most valuable skill he’s learned is to be adaptable and open to new opportunities. “Be resilient and continue to learn, struggle through the process of learning,” he says.

This is a personal skill some millennials like Acosta can take for granted especially when working on a platform such as the mainframe. “I’ve been able to develop many different skills very quickly, something that I did not expect myself to be able to do,” he says of the platform. As a pre-sale technical consultant for Linux on z Systems*, Acosta has developed specific skills for assisting the customer in the preplanning stages such as coming up with workloads that can deploy on the mainframe, considering the environment of deployment, assisting the client with the deployment in that environment, installing the virtualization technology like z/VM or Linux and performing benchmark tests at the clients request.

Skills like these are developed over time but the basis of these skills can come from myriad backgrounds.

Training Starts Where You Are

Whether you are taking a class on mainframe or a help desk technician, all it takes is an interest and willingness to learn to start in the mainframe. Millennial Ben Hoium, hardware team engineer, Wells Fargo, didn’t start his education in computer science. “Although I went to school for computer networking, I’ve always been one to learn new things, especially when it comes to IT,” he notes of having a nontraditional mainframe background.

However, it was evident to Hoium after he graduated from Anoka Technical College that he didn’t want to use his degree working as a help desk technician at a local community college. “The position was more of a stepping stone, not an actual career,” he says. He took what he learned there along with his basic IT knowledge and found a new career. “I found the Wells Fargo position online and thought that it would be a great learning opportunity.”

That opportunity eventually gave Hoium the ability to be hired for a yearlong training course with the financial company. Even though the yearlong training course helped Hoium with his transition into the mainframe, the knowledge he gained from senior mentors and employees proved to be priceless. “The most important thing for me was learning on the job from people that have been doing this for so many years,” Hoium says, mentioning that basic IT skills—e.g., computer networking, coding, scripting and security—are helpful but “senior team members played a huge part in accelerating my learning in the mainframe.”

Variety of Skills

The mainframe is constantly evolving so it’s essential to realize the continuous modernization businesses will face. The need for a traditional path into the mainframe—aside from basic skills—is not necessary for the new mainframers who arise from different experiences. Acosta’s background spans from an education in electrical engineering where he designed circuits to teaching for an organization called Teach for America where he practiced how to be “more articulate”—a skill Acosta says he uses to better work with customers and build relationships with clients.

Similar skills have given mainframers like Acosta the ability to “dive deeper” into a platform where you are tasked to work on multiple projects, with different teams. By embracing all aspects of the job and utilizing his skills and mentors Acosta found success in the mainframe environment. “I think by doing these different aspects of the job, some of it sales driven as well as the technical driven, has given me the opportunity to learn new skills and continue to expand my horizon as well.”

It isn’t only up to the next generation of mainframers to produce the skills necessary to succeed in the mainframe; senior mentors, team members and schools must be committed to seeing the mainframe thrive. “Some schools can fall into the trap of looking at the mainframe as an archaic environment, still around but on its way out,” Hoium says. “If students were taught how big mainframe really is and the future job outlook, they would definitely be more interested in learning the environment.”

An encouraged education in the basics of the mainframe is the first step to continued success in the field. That combined with mentorship and shared knowledge with the millennial generation could build the mainframe of the future.

Alessandria Rhines is a former intern with Destination z.

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